The Ubuntu UK Christmas Party

The decorations have been in the shops for months, the clocks have changed, sooner or later we are going to have to face up to the inevitability of another Christmas, and there  is nothing we can do to prevent it.

Take a moment to look forward to your long weekend of seasonal festivities with close family, distant relatives, and the not-quite-distant-enough ones. Think of the present opening, the joy of seeing another pair of socks, the screams of rage that inform you that Ben 10 was last years hot thing and a completely inappropriate present to have given this year. Just think about the meal of curiously burned stuffing inside a not-quite-cooked turkey which you will then smother with cranberry jam for no apparent culinary purpose. Spare a moment to consider the bowl of sprouts and the fun of watching adults attempting to fool children into thinking they are edible. Perhaps after the meal someone will suggest that you all play a board game together, won’t that be fun! The best you can hope for is that they will all be asleep before the Dr Who Christmas special starts.

If these thoughts of Christmas have left you in need of a stiff drink, don’t worry you are not alone, and we have a plan. The Ubuntu UK Christmas event will be held at The Hub Islington on December 21st from 7PM. You can register your attendance here (launchpad account required). We would invite you to bring some Christmas and/or Ubuntu themed nibbles and optionally a bottle of something to ward off the cold. Take an evening out to relax with friends and steel yourself for what is to come.

Maverick Meerkat Release Parties in the UK

This weekend the date on Sunday will be 10/10/10 and this being a rather special number it has been declared a global day of doing for reducing carbon outputs and participating in environmentally worthy projects as well as a good day to get married as 101010 in binary is 42 in decimal it has also been declared fourty two day in celebration of the Hitchhiker books of Douglas Adams. We will be doing something much more important however as it is the release day of Ubuntu 10.10 the Maverick Meerkat. In the UK there will be a release party on Sunday, which is also a 42 day celebration including screening of the HHGTTG film. The event will continue into the evening and I am sure a good time will be had by all those who don’t come dressed as Marvin the paranoid android.

A somewhat more civilized and sensible event follows on Tuesday 12th at Fossbox in London, mainly aimed at charities and the voluntary sector, introducing attendees to the Ubuntu desktop.

On Wednesday 13th there is another event, this one hosted by University College London and aimed mostly at students, but open to all.

On Saturday 16th in Swindon there will be demos and info about Ubuntu at the Museum of Computing, again this event is open to all.

If you are in the area of any of these events then do pop along, either if you haven’t used Ubuntu before and want to find out more, or if you are a seasoned veteran and want to meet other people in your area and talk about Ubuntu.

If you are wondering why there is a bit of a London focus to the events (apart from the Swindon one of course) and you want an event in a city near you then don’t forget *you* can organise events, and ask for help in the ubuntu-uk mailing list to gather support for an event where you want it.

Update on UK Gov’s Institutional Profligacy

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago I used Write to Them to contact my MP, Jeremy Hunt, regarding the comments of the new CIO of HMRC and how it seemed that saving money was not being encouraged by our civil servants. I discussed it in this blog post:

Phil Pavitt, recently-appointed CIO for HM Revenue and Customs, has revealed that attempts to cut government budget is positively discouraged. In a telling anecdote, he says “In my first few weeks of the job I was visited by leading members of the Cabinet Office. In that conversation with me they mentioned I am in the top purchasing club… That means you have tremendous influence on buying power, buying ideas and management and so on.”I said ‘If I reduce costs by 50 per cent what happens?’, ‘Well, you leave the club,’ I was told.”

A couple of days ago I got a follow up from Jeremy after he received a reply from the Rt. Hon Angela Smith MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. He didn’t seem that impressed…

Dear Alan,

Further to my email of 16th February 2010, I have now received the attached response from the Rt Hon Angela Smith MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office.

Given the worrying content of your email, the Minister has responded with little more than a standard response about how they always try to obtain good value for money.

Sadly we will never know what was said amongst the Minister and her civil servants about your email. However, I think we can be confident that it bore no resemblance to the final response I received!

Whilst Ms Smith’s comments are not surprise, I am sorry to have to pass on such a disappointing reply. If there is anything further I can take up with the Minister in the future on this issue, please feel free to let me know.

Best wishes


Jeremy Hunt
Member of Parliament
South West Surrey

I’ve attached the reply* so everyone can read it. Here is page 1, and here is page 2.

As you will see, the response is just a stock reply and gives almost no comment whatsoever to the main thrust of the question.

* The Minister’s response was emailed to me as a scanned PDF and it contained my home address and her email and phone numbers. I imported it into Inkscape and obfuscated those details which ended up creating 2 separate files.

Pressure Mounts on Windows Tax? [Update]

I wonder…

Since I wrote about getting the Windows license fee refunded on my Asus 1008HA netbook here in the UK, there have been more examples where individuals have had some success.

First we had a story on slashdot in the USA that seemed to be inspired by my own:

Today Amazon credited my card with $65.45. After ordering an Eee PC 1005 HA from, I asked them for a refund for the cost of Windows XP via the ‘Contact us’ form. At first they told me to cancel any items on my order that I wanted a refund for, but after I explained that XP was pre-installed on the machine they got it. They asked what the cost of the OS was, and I answered that I had no idea but that Amazon UK refunded £40.00. Within a few hours I got a response saying ‘I’ve requested a refund of $65.45 to your Visa card.’

Then we had some tales of difficulty in getting the refund from Amazon and Ebuyer, although I guess they will capitulate in the end as it seems the law is on our side:

If the retailer is awkward, then the way to a refund is avoid the trap of following the instructions in the EULA. Instead you request that the retailer replace the software with a version that isn’t ‘faulty’ (ie doesn’t have the additional terms and conditions imposed). You didn’t agree to them when you purchased the item and therefore they don’t form part of the contract of sale with the retailer.

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 requires that the retailer replace the faulty item, or if that is impossible provide you with a refund. The Sale of Goods Act gives you the right to partially reject items. Essentially you assert your ’statutory rights’.

Simos Xenitellis writes about trying to acquire a machine sans Windows Tax. And finds a few locations. I note that the first comment to his post is suggesting he visit our own site for more bare-metal suppliers.

It is very difficult to buy a computer without Windows (that is, to buy it with either Linux, FreeDOS or no OS) in the European market.

Why would you want to buy a laptop without pre-installed Windows?

1. Because you are simply not going to use Windows (for example, you plan to use a Linux distribution)
2. Because your school has an Developer Academic Alliance (formerly MSDN AA) with Microsoft and they provide the Windows software for you
3. Because your organisation has a company-wide agreement for Microsoft software, and you do not wish to pay twice for Windows.
4. Because you somehow have a Windows license or Windows package installation box already.

Sadly, when talking to the sales personnel of a manufacturer, it might look an easier strategy to just mention points 2 or 3. There is already some prior knowledge with the sales personnel that large organisations do not need the pre-installed Windows software.

And then we have Venkat Raghavan who has just bought an Asus 1005HA, again from Amazon, inspired by the earlier mentioned Slashdot article, and with not too much trouble has managed to get the Windows Tax refunded:

I’ve been a linux user for quite a while now. I looked to buy a netbook without Windows on it, but due to market conditions, that did not seem possible.

Based on this slashdot article, I went ahead and ordered the same item. (see my report on it here)

The first conversation was over the phone, which did not get me anywhere.

I had better luck over email. They offered me a refund of 10% on the price of the netbook, along with keeping Windows on it.

I however, asked again pointing to the slashdot article and after that they refunded me the price of Windows XP according to the article: $65.45

Thank you amazon for being so awesome!

That’s great. Congratulations on your perseverance and success.

Venkat also describes his experiences installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix and subsequently eeebuntu on his new machine here.

To wrap up this quick post, there is this very interesting news story/rumour about Asus being reported currently, I wonder if the message is finally getting through?

Awesome news from Engadget about the open source future of the next generation of Eee PCs. Their ‘spies’ have uncovered information that the first Moblin-running Eee netbooks will be in stores come October. Asus, the Eee PC manufacturer, is apparently considering making open source OSes an option for all their netbooks in the future.

Please keep up the pressure dear readers. If you buy a computer where you do not “need” a Windows license, for whatever reason (see Simos’ suggestions for 4 of them above) then make sure you contact your supplier and request a refund. By all means use links and reports gathered around the ‘net to support your claim.

Hmmm, I think feel a new website idea brewing….


We just received a comment on our “Please Sell us some Laptops” post from Claudio about how he got a refund from Dell in Belgium very easily:

I installed Ubuntu on the machine. Everything worked out of the box (a firmware update was needed to speed up the Intel Wifi) and I was a happy customer. Because I don’t use the pre-installed Windows partition, I sent a polite e-mail to Dell requesting a refund for the license of Microsoft Windows and Works. I just stressed I was a happy customer (I am) and didn’t want to return the laptop. I didn’t accept the EULA and asked for an address to send the Windows restore DVDs.

The answer was fast and professional:

Thank you for contacting Dell online customer service.

We will not be collecting the software CD’s from you, but would arrange for the amount to be refunded back to your account.

Please allow 5-7 business days for the amount to get reflected on your account.

And indeed, a few days later € 96,78 was added to my credit card. That’s what I call a customer service WIN.


Does UK Government Grok the GPL?

This is really quite interesting. It seems as though the UK government are starting, finally, to get the whole “Commons” thing.

There is this Government Department/Quango(?) called the Office of Public Sector Information (OSPI for short). Yep, I’ve never heard of them either. Not until I saw this tweet from Glyn Moody last night at any rate. The OSPI’s remit is (according to their website) as follows:

Operating from within the National Archives, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) is at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging the re-use of public sector information. OPSI provides a wide range of services to the public, information industry, government and the wider public sector relating to finding, using, sharing and trading information.

The merger of OPSI with the National Archives in October 2006 enables the combined organisation to provide strong and coherent leadership for the development of information policy across government and the wider public sector.

OPSI has an important role as a regulator of public sector information holders for their information trading activities. The Information Fair Trader Scheme (IFTS) founded on the principles of openness, transparency, fairness, compliance and challenge helps re-users of public sector information to know that they will be treated reasonably and fairly. OPSI also investigates complaints against public sector information holders made under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations.

OPSI provides the Click-Use system for obtaining a licence to re-use Crown copyright and public sector material through an online licensing process and is responsible for the Information Asset Register (IAR) that lists information assets held by the UK Government with a focus on unpublished material. OPSI also provides a secretariat to the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), which advises Ministers on how best to encourage the re-use of public sector information.

Operating from within OPSI, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) continues to exist and fulfil its core activities including responsibility for the publication of legislation and the management of Crown copyright.

Got that? Good. Although I’m still not sure I know what they “do”. I can see they are “at the heart of information policy” but anyway, let’s assume they do something important and worthy within the huge bureaucracy that is UK Government. The big news is they now have a blog! Called perspectives. The most interesting article (from 3 so far) on their new blog is this one where they introduce a new “Licensing Model” and are, more importantly, soliciting feedback:

The Government’s response to the Power of Information Taskforce’s recommendation 8 stated that OPSI was developing a new licence model, building on the success of the Click-Use Licence. We thought it would be good to post our initial thoughts about what the new licence terms could look like here on our blog for your comments.

Here’s the bit that caught Glyn’s eye and makes all us Freedom lovers go weak at the knees…

• The new licence terms are compatible with other standard licences such a Creative Commons and GNU GPL;

How interesting. I am not sure that I understand the full implications of the new license and what content/information it really pertains to, but the description of their remit above would suggest that it could be far reaching. Anyway, here is the license they propose in full below, but please don’t make specific license comments here, comment about the license over there, where the OSPI will see them.

Terms and conditions


This licence explains how you may re-use a wide range of public sector information and what conditions apply. Under this licence the term information means any content, including any part of such content, whether in writing or stored in electronic form or as a sound, visual or audio-visual recording, other than computer programs and software.

What you can do

1. You can copy, publish, translate into other languages, adapt, mash and convert to Braille and other formats for people who are visually impaired.

What information is covered

2. All Crown copyright information can be re-used under this licence apart from the specific exemptions listed below.

3. Information produced by other public sector organisations as listed at [link to be inserted].

What information is not covered

4. Crown copyright information produced by government departments and trading funds that are responsible for licensing the re-use of the information they commission or produce. Details of these organisations can be found at [link to be inserted]

5. Information where re-use is not permitted for policy reasons, for example the HSE Health and Safety Law poster.

6. Information that is exempt under Freedom of Information legislation and the Environmental Information Regulations.

7. Personal information about named individuals.

8. Official imprints, public sector organisation logos, badges, crests and insignia of the armed forces. This includes the Royal Arms unless they form an integral part of the information that you are re-using.

Your obligations

9. You must:

• Re-use the information accurately
• Acknowledge the copyright and the source of the information, for example the title of a report and the name of the department that issued it.
• Not re-use the information in a deliberately misleading way.
• Not re-use the information for promotional or advertising purposes; not to imply endorsement by a government department or other public sector organisation.
• Not mimic the style and appearance of the original information, for example by replicating the look and feel of a published document or a departmental website.


Your use of the information covered by this licence is entirely at your own risk. OPSI makes no warranty, representation or guarantee that the information is error free.

Governing law

This licence is made under the laws of England and Wales and comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

There are a couple of comments already and they cover the obvious.

Not being a lawyer I am not sure if I quite “get” why they (we?) need a new license though? Why could they not simply use any of the CC licenses as appropriate?

Anyway, if you spot anything in the detail or wish to simply make your voice heard, you know where to go.

New Thoughts on the UK Government Open Source Action Plan

Remember when, back in late February, the Cabinet Office released their “Open Source, Open Standards and Re–Use: Government Action Plan”? Myself and many other FOSS commentators were obviously heartily encouraged and have talked about it and examined the policy in some detail.

I was going back over the document recently and something quite important struck me that I had missed completely the first time round; there is a distinct lack of consideration for one particular group of “stakeholders”. A particular group of very important stakeholders that should be one of the key beneficiaries of the whole policy.

Can you guess who I mean yet?


Yes, the tax paying public. The group that actually consumes the services and output of Government. The group that pays the bills. The group that needs and should be guaranteed free and open access to public information; especially now after the recent ‘expenses revelations’.

Yet, reviewing the policy as a whole it seems remarkably introspective. Only examining how FOSS should or could be acquired and used within Government for Government. And it really only discusses the expectations and implications of increased use of FOSS for itself alone. It is as if the Government are acting only for themselves. <sarcasm>Surely not?</sarcasm>.

The key objectives will be to:

  • ensure that the Government adopts open standards and uses these to communicate with the citizens and businesses that have adopted open source solutions
  • ensure that open source solutions are considered properly and, where they deliver best value for money (taking into account other advantages, such as re–use and flexibility) are selected for Government business solutions.
  • strengthen the skills, experience and capabilities within Government and in its suppliers to use open source to greatest advantage.
  • embed an ‘open source’ culture of sharing, re–use and collaborative development across Government and its suppliers, building on the re–use policies and processes already agreed within the CIO Council, and in doing so seek to stimulate innovation, reduce cost and risk, and improve speed to market.
  • ensure that there are no procedural barriers to the adoption of open source products within government, paying particular regard to the different business models and supply chain relationships involved.
  • ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers demonstrate the same flexibility and ability to re–use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source.

Even the first objective above targets only those consumers that have already adopted FOSS solutions themselves. There is very little (and I’m being generous) mention or apparent consideration of the public citizen and the benefits that adopting Open Standards/Open Source will bring in terms of ability to access information without needing to acquire proprietary software to do so. There should, IMHO, be another “spoke” to the Government’s policy that provides for a basic level of education of these benefits to the public in general and the public sector employee too.

In my company we tend to meet and deal with individuals who are quite well-informed and will have (at least) a basic understanding of FOSS. They have probably heard of for example. But if you were to have that kind of conversation outside of the IT sector you will often be met with blank stares or gasps of “But how can it be free?” or “What’s the catch?”. It is these people who need to be contacted and helped so they may make an informed choice about the software they use on their home computers. Today many do not know they even have a choice (try asking you neighbours if they have heard of Ubuntu). It is – the way I see it – the responsibility of our Government to provide some base-level of information; the proprietary software vendors won’t pay to advertise FOSS and, to be totally honest, I don’t really see why they should be forced to in a free market.

You might think to suggest that is up to companies like ours to do this promotion. And we do to the best of our ability and as finances will allow. But, like many others, we are not a large company and do not have hundreds of thousands of pounds or more to spend on that kind of education. In fact, I was contacted last week by someone working “on behalf” of the Cabinet Office and a publication that is destined to go to all Local Government departments around the UK to help spread the word about the new policy and action plan. We were asked initially what we did and then if we would be interested in being included in this government sponsored and distributed “book”. It sounded very interesting. Until that was, they said it was going to cost us £4000 to have our company details in this register for just 6 months!

That hardly sounds like an “inclusive” and helpful exercise does it? Who are they going to get paying that kind of money? Just how much does this “book” actually cost to produce? And how many copies will be printed? And why are they still using books and paper anyway? It’s contents will almost certainly be out-of-date before it even gets distributed. Sheesh.

There is still, clearly, a very long way to go before our Government really starts to “get it”…

If John Suffolk or any other Government (or opposition) policy makers would like to discuss these issues further and hear how we think we could help to get the “message” out in a more inclusive, effective and less expensive way, please get in touch with us via our company web site. I have tagged this article with the requisite #ukgovOSS so I am hopeful that it will be picked up.

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